Pop Goes The Culture

Something touched on in the previous post is the notion of cultural relevancy, or if you prefer engaging the culture. A common cry amongst the conservative new media echo chamber… er, realm is the need to actively pursue entry into popular culture via the assorted reigning entertainment mediums — music, television, film. The irony of how this is most often discussed within closed circles is apparently lost on those thus engaged with talking about engagement but never doing anything that can in any fashion be construed as genuine outreach. But I digress.

One of the greatest challenges facing anyone who seeks to influence pop culture is that despite its apparent pervasiveness, even for the biggest names it is surprisingly limited in its at least initial outreach. Take as an example U2, its record label, and Apple’s agreement to make what is easily the biggest band in the world’s new album available for free to everyone with an iTunes account, number of same being some 500 million. How many thus far (the deal was announced this past Tuesday) have taken advantage of the offer, said offer being mentioned and promoted by virtually every media and medium in existence? Around two million. This for a band that has sold over 150 million albums in its career. The days when The Beatles could change the world with the change of a hairstyle are long gone.

Another example of pop culture’s limited appeal is at the movies. The general rule of thumb is that a movie with $100M in box office business is a success, bloated special effects-laden outings that cost more than $200M to make not withstanding. But how many people, as in individual ticket sales, see a blockbuster movie? The biggest movie this year to date is Guardians of the Galaxy, with an as of yesterday estimated domestic box office take of $297.8M. Translated into ticket sales, the best guess is that comes out to 35.7M tickets sold. Figuring there is quite probably a good percentage of repeat viewers… you get the idea. A large number, but not universal. Also, factor in the film’s built-in mass audience appeal from the Marvel Comics/Disney connection, the tens if not hundreds of millions spent promoting the film, and so on. This isn’t a film designed for viewerships at your local art cinema; something to give you cause for reflection and discussion. It is mass market product, designed to sell tickets and merchandise.

Paraphrasing Shakespeare, pop culture is sound and fury; tales told by an idiot, signifying nothing. This is the entirety of pop culture: a soap bubble, momentarily pretty but fatally fragile, inevitably popping to be seen no more and quickly forgotten in favor of the next bubble blown.

Yet despite this, enter into the pop culture fray we must. We have examples of what happens when we withdraw behind our walls; witness the utter failure of the evangelical American church, despite its size, to have any impact on society. Certainly the odds are stacked against us. We do not have multi-multi-million dollar promotional budgets at our disposal, nor will we have industry support no matter how potentially profitable our efforts may be. However, the need to reach people remains paramount. We cannot sit idly by, barking at the caravan as it moves on, then believe we are accomplishing something by barking. At least not if we are being honest. If we reach but a few, we have done far better than if we reach none at all.

We also have to be honest with ourselves. Echo chamber jingoism is great at rallies of like-minded people but utterly useless when presented to the general public. Be they ever so superficial and slick, pop culture successes convey whatever message they offer with sufficient skill to penetrate multiple societal layers. Clumsy cliches need not apply. Lee Greenwood already did “God Bless The USA.” There is neither need nor room for a sequel.

Now, promoting conservative artists in whatever field immediately presents a problem, that being dealing with artists. Most — not all, but most — creative people are fundamentally insane and correspondingly hard to handle. Why this is so is seldom understood by those not similarly gifted, or for that matter many of those who are gifted. To be an artist of any genuine skill means, regardless of whether it is acknowledged, that one has opened him or herself to the creative spirit that is a direct gift from God. When human (that’s us) is touched by divine (that’s the Man Upstairs), simultaneously beautiful and terrible things happen. The beautiful is what is created; the terrible is how such overwhelming intimacy with the Creator can all too easily drive a person mad as in our limited human state we can only handle so much beyond ourselves. There is also the pain factor; Bono was completely accurate when he sang every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief; all kill their inspiration and sing about the grief. Little Miss Sunshine would have been a lousy artist.

So, these are the challenges facing anyone who wishes to engage the culture. It is expensive, it is an insular world that does not take kindly to outsiders with views outside its hedonistic hyper-liberal own, and the people best equipped artistically to enter the fray are often borderline, if not full-fledged, self-destructive lunatics. Yet engage we must, for there is far too much at stake to let things go as they are.

Back To Basics: The Four Tenets Of The Blogging Evangel

So, after an extended silence that I oft doubted would ever end, I’m back. Had to blow the dust off my password and sweep the cobwebs out of the site, but thankfully it and I are still here.

Choosing a topic on which to hang my return was a tad difficult; it’s not like there’s a dearth of available points of discussion. That duly noted, one demanded immediate attention, that being blogging itself.

Blogging is in danger of becoming the compact disc of social media. It’s a marvelous medium through which to communicate, but in today’s world it is rapidly being superseded by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Why? Brevity and immediacy. The other formats are quick, easy, and instantly before your intended audience. A blog? Well, since no one uses RSS feeds anymore, you have to tell people new content is there (and tell them and tell them and tell them), then hope people will step away from Twitter and Facebook et al long enough to pay your site a visit. The hip and hot social media vessels have apps for most every mobile device. A blog depends on someone opening their browser and entering the address at least once, hopefully bookmarking it while there so it can be more easily accessed should return visits be part of someone’s online media consumption strategy.

Another problem bloggers face in attracting and keeping, along with growing, an audience is the deep level of funk out there about bloggers individually and collectively being unable to get over themselves. Delusion of glory and grandeur abound. It’s high time bloggers individually and collectively get back to basics and what made blogging a vital communication form.

Blogging works only when you remember it’s one voice, one opinion; consider it as you will. When you’re blogging, remember it’s a venue to express your thoughts and opinions on any given subject. That’s all. You are not going to save the world. Hopefully, prayerfully you can help open eyes and minds to truth. Be content with that, as it is futile to frustrate yourself by striving for more when there is no more to be obtained.

When blogging, be yourself and be real. Say your piece, and be at peace. Be consistent with what you say. Be consistent with who you are. Let your words reflect who you are. Don’t be one person online and another away from the computer.

Blog not for social media fame or accolades. Blog from and for the heart; the belief what you have to say can help other people. The echo chamber is already full, and it is not accepting applications. You don’t need it or its residents for validation.

Blogging for a paycheck is not blogging; it’s casual format column writing. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s be honest about what it is. Far, far too many people pass themselves off as bloggers when they are nothing of the kind. Working toward monetizing your blog is not a shame, but should you start straying from yourself and the reasons why you first started blogging you are going down the wrong path.

When blogging, always remember this: no matter what, never, never become what you profess to oppose. You say you’re a citizen journalist speaking truth to power at professional journalists living in ivory towers? Don’t live in one yourself. You say you’re against punditry elitism, where writers speak only to others in the same profession? Don’t do the same thing. You say you’re too busy to answer your emails; that there’s just not enough time in the day to get everything done? Too bad. It’s your job.

If you want the “glory” of being a popular blogger, you have to do the necessary work. That involves far more than writing blog posts. To be a successful blogger means you embrace the belief that blogging is a communication tool from one person to another. Every individual who reads one of your blog posts is an individual, and deserves to be treated as such. Unless it’s a troll – and not everyone who disagrees with something you say is one – when someone communicates with you, communicate back. They’ve taken the time to read and respond to your writing. Simple, common courtesy dictates you do the same.

Again, unless it’s a troll, answer your emails. Every time. Respond to tweets and Facebook posts. Every time. It takes very little time to type a simple “thank you.” Do it.

The wise blogger does not see him or herself as a great written orator, or leader of people. The wise blogger does not see him or herself as one blessing teeming throngs with every word of wisdom that comes from their fingertips. The wise blogger sees him or herself as a retail clerk whose livelihood depends on the quality of service they provide all who come by.

Think about the pleasant retail experiences you have had. What is the common thread that connects all of these times? Invariably, part or all of it was interaction with a worker who was friendly, personable, knowledgeable, and genuinely helpful.

As it is in retail, so it is in blogging. The blogger who treats their audience with respect and as a welcomed guest will succeed. The blogger who treats their audience with distain, or believes its sole purpose is to praise their words of wisdom, will fail.

We say we must change the culture. Well, culture change happens one person at a time. Culture change happens when you reach one person, one heart and mind, with ideas that helps them see things in a new light. Culture change comes when we talk with people, not to them.

Be a positive force for change. Treat people as you yourself wish to be treated. This includes blogging. Interact with your readers as you yourself wish other writers would interact with you. Not as a haughty lord, but rather as an equal.

To summarize, please remember the four tenets of the blogging evangel.

First, the ability to broadcast your opinion neither elevates nor validates said opinion.

Second, blog from, and for, the heart; not a paycheck.

Third, answer your email. Every time.

Fourth, and most important of all, never become what you profess to oppose. Never.

May I always follow these tenets.

To Be Alive

April Thompson is one of the most beautiful women I know. This conclusion is drawn not from her looks, although she is very attractive. Rather, it is from how she is deeply and passionately in love with God, her husband, and their kids. That is a beauty no Sports Illustrated model, save one who possesses the same qualities, can ever hope to approach.

In-between sessions of her very full-time gig known as raising the rugrats, April is wont to pen assorted thoughts in her blog. Her most recent post nicely expresses a frustration oft voiced by creative Christians, that being how a segment of American Christianity instantly recoils in horror the moment an artist, in any given medium, attempts crossing over from the Christian marketplace into the big bad satanic secular cesspool:

As Christians, we have to be careful not to be mindless consumers of whatever is served in the name of entertainment. But you know what’s not good? Hiding in our little Christian or conservative ghettos, yelling nasty things at the world from the walls, and throwing stones at anyone who tries to take the message outside the gates. Ya know, like Jesus said to.

Mrs. Thompson continues the point by bringing it into the political realm. She mentions how many conservatives (she is unapologetically one) are so conditioned to a knee-jerk response and blanket condemnation of most everything pop culture-wise, completely hung up on an artist’s political bent regardless of whether it carries over into their art, they disassociate themselves from everything under the mantle of avoiding anything “unclean.” This takes the form of not supporting via buying a CD or download or movie ticket or what have you any individual not on their side of the political aisle, along with, when discussing said artists among those of like mind, participating in a top-this game of who can trash-talk them the most. Because, you know, that will win the culture war every time.

She’s too young to remember, but Steve Taylor brilliantly skewered this mindset some time ago:

So you need a new car
Let your fingers take a walk
Through the business guide
For the born again flock

You’ll be keeping all your money
In the kingdom now
And you’ll only drink milk
From a Christian cow

Don’t you go casting your bread
To keep the heathen well-fed
Line Christian pockets instead
Avoid temptation

Guilty by association

Turn the radio on
To a down-home drawl
Hear a Brylcreem prophet
With a message for y’all

Well I have found a new utensil
In the devil’s toolbox
And the heads are gonna roll
If Jesus rocks

It’s all a worldly design
God’s music should be divine
Try buying records like mine
Avoid temptation

Guilty by association

So you say it’s of the devil
And we’ve got no choice
‘Cause you heard a revelation
From the still small voice

If the Bible doesn’t back it
Then it seems quite clear
Perhaps it was the devil
Who whispered in your ear

It’s a telethon Tuesday
For the gospel club
Send your money in now
Or they’re gonna pull the plug

Just remember this fact
When they plead and beg
When the chicken squawks loudest
Gonna lay a big egg

You could be smelling a crook
You should be checking The Book
But you, you’d rather listen than look
The implication

Guilty by association

Life for the believer is neither a scenario of doing whatever one wishes (sorry, libertarians) or hiding in a reverse leper colony. It is a call to the reality of Christ and life in Christ. It is personal holiness combined with mandatory outreach to others. Jesus was not a drunkard, yet He drank and His first recorded miracle was at a wedding reception when He changed water into wine so as to keep the party going. He associated, without compromise, with society’s outcasts. He didn’t tow the religious progressive’s continually shifting line of relative morality, telling them everything was cool and they could continue on their merry way without repercussion. He loved them where they were at while calling on them to change first their heart, and from that change their life. He didn’t commend the adulteress whose life He saved from the crowd seeking to entrap Him by what He said should be done with her, knowing full well the penalty for her actions under Mosaic law was that she was to be executed by stoning. He didn’t condemn her either. He offered her life with the admonition to leave her life of sin.

There is a powerful witness in the polite destruction of clichés. Systematically execute them by living life among other people in a Godly manner. Contrary to some opinions, living a Godly life does not mean acting like you are God, nor does it mean shoving your faith down the throat of another, nor does it mean never speaking up for fear of “offending” someone. It means tearing down the false image of what constitutes a believer by being both the human being you were created as and the child of God you were created to be.

There are no magic formulas for this; no superdeeduper secret initiation rites, magic words or self-induced guilt trips about what you should or shouldn’t do to say the magic words in response to which God will give you a hundred blessings. There is honesty, with yourself, others and especially God.

There are stones in the road. You will trip and fall. You will fail. You will know hurt, frustration, despair, rejection, grief, and anger. But you will also know what it means to truly be alive.

To be alive is to live, with all of life’s joys and sorrows.

You cannot hide from life. You can live life.

If others think you are crazy for doing so, so be it.